A building has six elevations

The process of writing How to steal like an architect last year, a series of 10 articles based on Austin Kleon’s How to steal like an artist, made me consider other lessons learned over the years. What further lessons would I teach my younger self, given the opportunity?

17. A building has six elevations

There is nothing less dignified than a building with a finely-crafted front facade flanked either side by blank walls built from the cheapest material available. Just as bad is one whose careless owners have replaced part of its tiled roof with cheap steel.

A building does not have only one front: it has a front that faces the street, one that faces the sun, one the sky, one the garden, many the neighbours. A building is an object in space, with each face worthy of careful consideration. It has not one, but six elevations.

There are the four external elevations, there is the roof and there is the interior. All form part of the one, unified whole. All should be well designed.

Like the human body, each element of a building should be uniquely designed and fit for its purpose. Even if a side elevation is never seen, or the roof, it should be well designed. The truth is that at some point it will be seen, even if only by a plumber coming to fix the hot water service. But even if this were not so, it is still worth doing because you, the architect, will know. It will be in your thoughts and memories forever, that dumb, cheap facade you could have done better but didn’t.

The symmetry of the new and old roofs at Basser House are best understood from a vantage point rarely seen

Steve Jobs had the signatures of the original Macintosh‘s designers engraved on the inside of its case, an inclusion on each computer that cost Apple money without making a cent of return. “No one would ever see the signatures, but the members of the Macintosh team knew that their signatures were inside, just as they knew that the circuit board was laid out as elegantly as possible.”

A building has six elevations.

About Warwick Mihaly

Warwick Mihaly is a principal architect of Mihaly Slocombe, teaches design and construction, and writes.
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